While attending the Keeneland thoroughbred sales in Kentucky, a senior psychoanalyst reconnects with his youthful fervor for thoroughbred racing. Returning to California, he finds himself with re-awakened dreams but without the financial wherewithal to pursue them. A chance event in his practice leads him to an entrepreneurial veterinary-school dropout who has put together the Gerson Racing Stable, a motley crew of sixty racetrack enthusiasts and Runyonesque characters that buy and sell claiming horses. For $3000, he joins the group and the Gerson horses win their first six races. The team is “Living the Dream,” its motto. Mike Mitchell, the trainer, spots and claims a six-year-old grey gelding, Star Over the Bay and Gerson Racing becomes a twenty-five percent owner. Each member now owns a minuscule fraction of a horse whose previous career showed but four wins in thirty-four starts in six different states. An appealing young jockey, Tyler Baze, is added to the mix and a new era begins for all. A Shooting Star takes the reader on the team’s roller-coaster ride in major stakes races, the Breeders’ Cup Turf Championship and his debut on the international stage. Along the way, the analyst finds his way back to where the story began in Kentucky.
It was five o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. I pushed aside my arithmetic homework and turned on my radio. I twisted the dial to WSAI for my favorite program. After the surge of a dramatic overture, a voice called out, “Hi Ho Silver...rrrr, the Lone Ranger rides again,” and the episode was underway. Astride his trusty stallion, Silver, the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, raced across my radio dial, chasing bad guys as he rescued the good and protected the helpless. Many months later the neighborhood buzzed with the exciting news: the Lone Ranger was coming to TV. One of my best buddy’s family had a new television set and, on the evening of the premiere, the gang met in my front yard. We raced down the street to Bobby’s house. We squirmed impatiently on the living room floor as we watched the black and white test pattern on the tiny eight-inch screen. Finally the screen displayed the station identification as a voice announced, “This is WLW-T, Channel Four in Cincinnati.” The screen darkened and then the familiar overture was followed by “Hi-Ho Silver..rrrr, the Lone Ranger rides again.” On the screen, two men on horseback galloped toward the camera and reined to a stop. The stunning silver horse with a masked man on his back reared on his hind legs. The Indian on his pinto pony stood alongside. But what was this? That puny Clayton Moore was too scrawny to be my Lone Ranger. Jay Silverheels was a passable Tonto. Only Silver lived up to my radio mind's eye. A half-century later, I was half-walking, half-jogging on the treadmill while watching the races from Hollywood Park on TV. Once again a “silver” horse caught my eye and captured my imagination. I slowed, then stopped the treadmill to take in the beauty and grace of his stride. The brilliant gray, almost white, stallion galloped effortlessly and confidently across the finish line. The margin was only four lengths but his stride was reminiscent of that of Secretariat in his historic victory years ago in the Belmont Stakes. It was a weekday claiming race yet it might as well have been the Kentucky Derby. The next morning I phoned my new friend Sean, “Did you see that horse that won the sixth at Hollywood yesterday afternoon? We’ve got to claim that horse next time he runs.” “ You mean Star Over the Bay. It’s already done. We claimed him out of the race,” answered Sean. “Mike spotted him weeks ago and he put us in with Vanburger and a friend of mine to buy the horse for 80K.” * * * My interest in racehorses dated to my childhood. I was named for my mother’s father, Dick Kane, who died before I was born. His own father had come from Ireland during the potato famine. Dick and his two brothers, Mike and Joe, ran a construction company in Worcester, Massachusetts in the days before the industry was fully mechanized. Dick, as my mother and aunt called him, raised and kept the workhorses that were employed at construction sites. The U.S. Army recognized his expertise in judging horses and commissioned him to travel to Kentucky each year to select horses for the cavalry. Back home, he and one of his friends owned a couple of harness horses that they raced for a hobby. My mother carried the tradition and the gene for an interest in horses. When I was growing up in Cincinnati, Mom arranged family outings to the local racetrack, River Downs. Every spring we’d visit the horse farms and the Keeneland Racecourse in nearby Lexington, Kentucky. On Sundays my Cincinnati uncle would sometimes take me to the country for pony rides. My mother, a staunch Catholic, treated the first Saturday in May like a Holy Day of Obligation. Each spring we settled around the kitchen radio to listen to Clem McCarthy call the Kentucky Derby. Mom allowed herself a bourbon and water as the band played “My Old Kentucky Home.” Triple Crown winners, Assault and Citation (1946 and 1948), were her idea of sports heroes--if not patron saints.
Richard Fox worked at a Cincinnati racetrack while pursuing his medical education. He specialized in psychoanalysis and practiced, taught, and wrote clinical papers. He served as President of the American Psychoanalytic Association before he chanced upon an opportunity to return to his passion for thoroughbreds. He is married and resides in Dana Point in Southern California.